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Every spare penny

I don’t think I’ll ever get over morels. Even when I’m old, with wrinkles and a cane and clothes that smell like moth balls, I’ll still squeal with glee at the sight of them. They remind me of something I used to say about the Golden Gate Bridge, back when I was in college in the Bay Area. I loved that bridge. I remember telling someone that I could live out the rest of my earthly days without ever feeling blasé about it: its rich shade of orange-red, somewhere between rust and brick; its fat cables climbing through the fog; the way I always felt when I drove across it, as though I were really going somewhere, somewhere important, somewhere dreamt-of and written-about and pined-after, and, for a little while at least, mine. I feel that way about morels, only minus the orange-red part, and the cables, and the bit about going somewhere. I don’t think I’ll ever be blasé about morels.

This is one of those times, in all honesty, when I feel silly to be sitting here, writing this. I mean, the dish I want to share with you is sautéed mushrooms served on toast. It’s a topic that hardly warrants a recipe, much less a whole treatise. But one day a couple of weeks ago, Brandon and I happened upon a crate of local morels at the market, and on a whim, we asked for a half-pound. It was only eight dollars – a steal, people – and so we shook the vendor’s hand and hurried them home, giggling all the while like a pair of thieves after a particularly good robbery. I threw a knob of butter into our big, heavy skillet and set it on the heat, and when it had turned to a fragrant slurry, I tossed in the mushrooms. They sizzled for a minute and then set to softening, wringing themselves out like tiny sponges, and when they were nearly dry, I stirred in a spoonful of crème fraîche from a carton that I found at the back of the fridge. We piled the cream-slicked morels atop slices of toasted bread, and then we sat down to eat, and that’s when a silence fell over the table. No, scratch that. It wasn’t silence, because there was some contented sighing too, and I believe that someone – possibly me, in fact – banged her fist on the table in swoony disbelief, mid-swallow. Brandon announced that he felt like a king. I nodded in agreement, smacking my lips, and pronounced myself his queen. We chewed, and we sighed, and we slapped our thighs, and so it went for at least ten minutes, the two of us, totally and completely silly with satisfaction.

Hence this treatise today, and a recipe of sorts, because since that night, I’ve been socking away every spare penny to buy more morels, so long as the season lasts. It made sound spendy, but I’ll tell you a secret: Brandon has been out of town, and buying morels for one is much easier than buying them for two. In fact, it’s downright cheap. (Plus, I can eat them atop the hippie-style wheat bread I like to keep around, and no one is here to scoff or complain. Phew.)

And there’s something about eating a food so rare, so sought-after, and so drop-dead simple to prepare. Warmed in butter, morels relax and bloom, releasing their rich, woodsy flavor to mingle with the sweet, toasty fat. A glug of cream may seem a tad over the top, but for me, it’s the clincher. Stirred around the pan, it picks up any slips and nubs of flavor stuck to the surface, and it slides around the mushrooms like a soft, velvety cloak. All told, it goes down astoundingly well with a gin and tonic, just so you know, and a green salad is nice too, and piles of summer fruit for dessert. Sighing is optional, but suggested.

Creamed Morels on Toast

Lately I’ve been eating as many morels as my wallet will allow, and when it comes to cooking them, my best advice is this: keep it simple. Many people like to add minced shallots or garlic, or a squeeze of lemon, or chives, or wine, or whatnot, but not me. I say, let ‘em be. Their flavor is delicate, nutty, and fleeting, and it needs only butter and a little cream to coax it out. I cooked some today with a small shallot – which is pretty classic, recommended by countless recipes and cookbooks – but its sweet, pungent fragrance just smothered the poor things. From here out, I’m sticking with my usual, bare-bones method, outlined below. It’s only a rough guide, and you need not really measure: you could use more or less of nearly any ingredient, and the end result wouldn’t suffer. You could even use another wild mushroom, if morels aren’t available.

Oh, and about the toast. If you’ve got a nice, chewy-crumbed country loaf lying around, that’s perfect. Or a baguette. Either way, I like to take a slice, drizzle it lightly with olive oil, and slip it under the broiler until it has just a touch of color. In a pinch, though, even my regular old sandwich bread does a pretty fine job. It’s just some hippie-dippy sprouted wheat stuff, but toasted – and buttered, or left plain, either way – its earthy flavor and nubbly crust make a nice foil for the rich mushrooms.

About 3-4 ounces fresh morels
About 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1-2 Tbsp. heavy cream or crème fraîche
Salt, to taste

Clean the mushrooms with a small brush – a pastry brush works nicely – to remove any dirt and debris and hidden woodland cargo. Cut them in half lengthwise, and brush out their hollow centers as well. If they seem sandy, wash them briefly in water, and drain them well. [Ideally, though, you don’t want to get them wet unless you absolutely have to.] Set them aside.

In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the morels and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to release some water. Reduce the heat to medium, let the mushrooms reabsorb their juices, and continue cooking until they are nearly dry. Add the cream or crème fraîche, season with a dash of salt, and stir over the heat for a minute or so, to incorporate the cream. Serve, with additional salt as needed, over toast.

Note: Like many things, these morels are even better the next day. I like to reheat them briefly – in the microwave; gasp! – so that their juices flow freely, and I’m continually stunned by how much fuller their flavor seems after an overnight rest in the fridge.

Yield: 2 small servings, or 1 bigger one, or 1 small serving with delicious leftovers


Anonymous kimberly said...

Molly, I felt the same way about the Golden Gate Bridge when we lived in the Bay Area; it just about took my breath away each time I saw it. In Seattle it's Mt. Rainier that enchants me, though after several years here I'm no longer in danger of running off the road when I catch sight of it.

And morels? Yes, indeed... though I'd describe the sound in our house as moaning rather than sighing.

12:21 AM, July 03, 2007  
Anonymous Laura said...

I was reading your description of cooking the morels and already in mad swoon just thinking of the scent of them cooking in butter, but then you added the crème fraîche and I actually clenched my fist...some things are just that "pound your fist on the table" kind of good. A simple, but extravagant comfort food.

1:21 AM, July 03, 2007  
Blogger Pille said...

Enjoy your mushrooms, Molly! Unfortunately the morel season is over here in Estonia (though we did manage to buy some from the market a few times, and also pick our own in the countryside:). I'm not too upset, however, as yellow chantarelle season is on and will last until early autumn. Mmmm...

1:32 AM, July 03, 2007  
Anonymous Mary said...

I agree with you about the morels, don't do much more than put them in the pan with a little butter. My brother has a secret spot for hunting them, he won't tell me where, but I don't care because he bring them to me when they're in season. Talk about feeling like a thief.

3:52 AM, July 03, 2007  
Anonymous Kelly said...

Your post has me swooning, and I've never even tasted a morel. I've read about them, about the joy of coming upon a blooming patch of earth in the forest, thick with camouflaged mushroom caps. The splendor of eating them. I live in the midwest and have never seen a morel. Now I want to more than ever.

5:05 AM, July 03, 2007  
Anonymous radish said...

funny, this is my favorite way to eat morels as well, and i also like them with home fried potatoes and chopped green onion!

5:20 AM, July 03, 2007  
Anonymous jules said...

I know what it's like to feel that way about a bridge, although mine spans Sydney harbour.

Am now just wishing we could get morels here in Oz...they sound amazing

5:27 AM, July 03, 2007  
Blogger Figs Olives Wine said...

Molly, how gorgeous. Creamed morels on toast must be the most gourmet of comfort foods. I really do agree about unadulterated morels - they're just too special and fleeting to muck about with.

Though they were a huge coming-of-age for me stuffed with foie gras and served over fillet mignon at my first fancy New York restaurant dinner when I was 21 and had just moved here. I could barely work out if they were animal, vegetable, or mineral, but I knew they were heavenly!

5:31 AM, July 03, 2007  
Blogger Texas Espresso said...

oh I LOVE morels! I never had them until I was in college on Oklahoma. My aunt & uncle lived in the country and they grew in abundance there. i know - FREE MORELS. now I can't afford them...

love your blog.

7:04 AM, July 03, 2007  
Anonymous Matt Wright said...

Ahhh Morels. I too love these little guys. A touch expensive.. but then anything that is good is.. right?

A great meal for me would be some fresh fava beans and morels, mixed together in the buttery cooking juices from the morels. On top of that would be a really good piece of salmon, or some scallops. Oh, and some ciabatta. What a crazy person I would be to forget that!

Anyhow, I have never seen the golden gate bridge for real (shock horror), but I certainly have morels!

7:26 AM, July 03, 2007  
Blogger hannah said...

this post brought a flood of memories back. my favorite thing while i was in santiago was champiñones con crema. which is essentially this very thing, mushrooms with cream piled on chewy bread. like heaven. truly. and the best part was this little cafe was down an alley so narrow that at one point you have to turn sideways to get through. ah. i cant not wait to go back, until then i will pick up morels on the way home.

7:26 AM, July 03, 2007  
Anonymous sarah said...

we had the great great fortune of collecting a grocery-bag full of these little wonders a few weeks ago. and while we ate them a number of ways, you're absolutely right that the simplest of preparations that really make the morel sing!

8:01 AM, July 03, 2007  
Blogger Shauna said...

Sweetie, this may be my favorite post of yours. oh, that's a competition i don't want to judge, but seriously, this one just had me leaned forward on my seat. i love this image of you and brandon together, each appreciating, and enjoying the same experience in your different ways, together. what a beautiful evocation of love.

8:53 AM, July 03, 2007  
Blogger Alice Q. said...

I'm not sure we can get these here in San Diego, but if I see some I will try this! I just read about them in Michael Pollan's book and it piqued my curiousity. I think I have had them before, but they were just spongy and flavorless, probably b/c they were dehydrated and/or old.

9:06 AM, July 03, 2007  
Blogger christianne said...

what a simple secret treat! my sweetie is allergic to mushrooms, but he's out of town this weekend so maybe i'll just sit alone in the house and savor the alone-time and the morels.

10:10 AM, July 03, 2007  
Anonymous Meryl said...

mmm... this sounds so heavenly in that comfort food kind of way. I've never cooked morels before, but they are on my grocery list now!

12:58 PM, July 03, 2007  
Anonymous DC Sarah said...

You have no idea how much my mouth was watering reading this post. I have been craving a simple, comforting, savory recipe and you've somehow read my mind! And to think, when I was young I HATED mushrooms (i thought all mushrooms were those shriveled black things that come on bad pizza). Can't wait to rummage at the farmer's market this weekend and see if I can find any morels!

2:03 PM, July 03, 2007  
Anonymous Jody said...

your post made me so nostalgic... I once lived in northwest Montana and picked morels from my boyfriend's backyard... those were the days!

5:23 PM, July 03, 2007  
Blogger sister AE said...

Oh, what memories you brought me! When I was a kid in the midwest we'd go pick morels each spring. If we couldn't go, some of my dad's patients usually brought us huge ones (but of course would never tell where they found them!)

After making sure they are clean, we'd toss them gently with cornmeal and fry up a mess.

I haven't had any in ages and finally resorted to buying dried ones. Any ideas what I can do with them? If I soak them, will they still have at least a hint of the earthy yum I remember?

6:21 PM, July 03, 2007  
Anonymous Matt Wright said...

I did a recipe with morels tonight. Just fantastic. Morels, fava beans, lemon, parsley. And some fresh Yakitat salmon. Just amazing.

Yep.. I mentioned the recipe in a post reply further up this morning, and just couldn't stop thinking about it, so ended up cooking it tonight!

Photos and story at:

11:06 PM, July 03, 2007  
Anonymous Lynn said...

Sounds heavenly. Lovely picture painted of you and Brandon savoring together. Now I must try morels.

8:52 AM, July 04, 2007  
Blogger Brilynn said...

I understand your love of morels completely. I pick my own every year adn the site of them thrills me to no end.

9:17 PM, July 04, 2007  
Blogger Astrid said...

oooh! this sounds good. i love mushrooms, but i haven't tasted morels. in fact, before i clicked the link to wikipedia, i thought you were talking about morello cherries. "morell" is morello cheey in norwegian...

5:10 AM, July 05, 2007  
Anonymous jennbecluv said...

I wish I was a mushroom fiend like yourself, but alas, I'm not even a passing fan. That being said, I still can relate to your recipe as I adore beans over toast. It's something I discovered while living in Ireland and find most everyone I discuss it with here in the States thinks I'm nuts. So, I applaud you on posting a dish that involves warm veggie-type stuff over toast. Here's to toast!

5:14 AM, July 05, 2007  
Anonymous Kathy said...

I've never tried morels either....whahhhh! Now I want some!

Quick question: I've always heard you had to soak morels in salty water to get the buggies out; is that true?

8:27 AM, July 05, 2007  
Anonymous sianwu said...

OMG, I've been eating morels like crazy too since I found this ridiculous deal at the Red Apple on 23rd and Jackson (not exactly a bastion of gourmet food, they're known for their dollar aisle). They're only $11.95 a pound there! We were so psyched to get so many morels! I looove them in butter and sea salt. I just got some yesterday and I think people were so busy snapping up coolers and hot dogs they largely got ignored. If you hurry you might be able to snag some more!

9:47 AM, July 05, 2007  
Blogger Hillary said...

Good golly miss Molly! (haha I've been waiting to say that...)

I've never even tasted morels but I can smell them in the air because of your entry. I know many have said this already but you've made me want to try them so badly!

Your passion for food really comes through in your writing because reading your entries really brings food to life, no matter if it's something I've tried before or not!

1:35 PM, July 05, 2007  
Blogger Cottage Smallholder said...

What a beautifully written post.

Thank you.

4:14 PM, July 05, 2007  
Anonymous joey said...

How I envy your fresh morels! I love wild mushrooms but they don't grow them locally...your morels with just a dab of butter and cream on toast sound intoxicating!

4:25 AM, July 06, 2007  
Blogger wellunderstood said...

lovely, just lovely. you have a gift.

6:57 AM, July 06, 2007  
Anonymous Grant said...

I'm glad you posted this. I recently went to a Wolfgang Puck restaurant recently and had one of his signature pizzas topped with asparagus and morels and a few other things that I can't remember, and I have to say, while I liked the pizza, I couldn't really taste the morels. I'm going to have to try them this way. Thanks!

12:41 PM, July 06, 2007  
Blogger Sunnie said...

I'd never tried morels before, or any sort of creamed mushroom on toast, but I was wandering Pike Place this morning after reading this yesterday, and... I had to. And I am SO glad I did. They're running $30/lb right now from the stands I stopped at, but I only got a handful, just enough for me.

Going to get more, yes ma'am. Thank you so much! Your blog is always a favorite. =)

2:01 PM, July 06, 2007  
Anonymous Neal said...

[sniff] I miss the Pacific NW.

2:14 PM, July 06, 2007  
Blogger Lily said...

mmm...that sounds wonderful and simple - i'm used to throwing a bunch of herbs and spices in, but i think i'll try your recipe b/c it sounds divine...
ok. i'm drooling.

3:27 PM, July 06, 2007  
Blogger Stephen said...

Usually it's the simple things in life that are the most gratifying!

5:18 PM, July 06, 2007  
Blogger wendy said...

I don't even like mushrooms, but I want to go out and snag some morels at the farmer's market this weekend.
your description IS fit for a king & queen.

11:43 PM, July 06, 2007  
Blogger kickpleat said...

sigh....i've never had a morel before and now i'm slapping myself silly for missing something so wonderful. lovely.

5:51 PM, July 07, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Okay, well, I guess I should just accept the fact that I'm, um, so good at replying to your comments these days, guys. After the wedding - and our honeymoon; ahhhhh - I'll get back into the swing of things around here, I promise. But in the meantime, thank you, thank you for sharing so many wonderful thoughts and words here. You guys are terrific! Always.

And sister AE, about using dried morels: they should be delicious! I would soak them for about 20 minutes or so in very hot water, to get them tender and pliable, and then saute them with some green beans or asparagus. And don't toss out the soaking water - it has loads of flavor. You could use it as part of a stock, if you like.

6:33 PM, July 07, 2007  
Blogger christine said...

I was drooling throughout this entire post! You are so right in that it shouldn't be smothered with other ingredients which would just steal it's thunder. I can almost taste it! :)

10:29 AM, July 08, 2007  
Blogger Jes said...

just delicious!

8:48 PM, July 08, 2007  
Anonymous Julie said...

No morels in our farmers' markets -- I fear I'm too late, and spring this year was a time when I wasn't marketing for much other than nuptial paraphernalia, so the morels escaped me this year.

But your post makes me think of that MFK Fisher vignette where she talks about eating croûtes aux morilles with her mother in a village near Lausanne, and how they were so delectable, so voluptuous, that they gave in to their own greed and ordered a second helping each, and then a third...

12:20 PM, July 09, 2007  
Blogger Lynn said...

just wanted to let you know after I read your blog I purposely went out to buy morels....searched hi and low for them!! I enjoyed your simple recipe with toast....yummy...the perfect dinner....I could have this almost everyday!

7:40 PM, July 09, 2007  
Blogger Seattle Tall Poppy said...

What an incredible post. I want to kick myself for not buying morels at the farmer's market yesterday! I'll be keeping a sharp lookout for them next week. :)

8:47 PM, July 09, 2007  
Blogger Kirsten said...

I just had to report back that I went straight to the forager and snapped up a big bag of morels, threatened by the heat wave and their absence next week. So morel week at our house consisted of a pasta with sauteed shallots, morels, sea beans and a bit of cream, with shards of assiago. i had bought a few giant ones and stuffed them with chevre and herbs and roasted them. heaven, i tell you. there are a few wobbly ones left, perfect for toast for lunch tomorrow, just for me. my family tells me they are tired of funghi - i just can't comprehend this!

9:45 PM, July 10, 2007  
Blogger tammy said...

Just adored this post. If you're distracted by the wedding, it sure doesn't show in your writing.

6:31 PM, July 14, 2007  
Anonymous tara bethune-leamen said...

there are new to me. i will have to try.

6:51 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Shelley said...

I am so jealous! Being originally from Oregon and now living in Montana - morel mushrooms are something that I miss and pine away for so much. I can hardly stand it. Seeing that picture was like foodporn. But better. Living in Montana now for 22 years, once, only ONE time, did a restaurant have morel mushrooms on their menu as an appetizer special. Served creamed on small puff pastry rounds. Of course, I ordered them, and then kept moaning and sighing until I embarrassed the husband who thought it sounds like I was having an...you know. Gosh, I miss morels.

10:53 AM, July 20, 2007  
Anonymous claudia said...

i wanta morels on toast
i want them now
i want to live somewhere where i can buy them fresh. ok - now i'm depressed. ok - now i'm over it.
but i gotta have me some morrels. your description was amazing.

9:36 AM, July 21, 2007  
Blogger Powerfille (Get it?) said...

I'm a long-time 'lurker' but have recently joined the blog fray. Love your site (and wish you all the best with the wedding)! On morels, wondered if you had read Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal Vegetable Miracle"? She has a receipe for Asparagus and Morel Bread Pudding (http://animalvegetablemiracle.com/BREAD%20PUDDING.pdf). Thought it sounded good but after reading your post, I think I prefer the simplicity of yours that really showcases the morels. I'd love to try them but haven't been able to find them anywhere (is it because I'm in Canada?).

7:34 PM, July 21, 2007  

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